Friday, 15 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part seven

Numbers within parentheses indicate a subjective chronology that has no evolutionary markers. (click to enlarge)

Inspiration can come from anywhere. My "Uereka!" moment, the very instant that I began to understand the psychology of the Celtic artist owes everything to the psychology behind Loch Ness monster sightings: many years ago, I listened to an interview with a Scottish naturalist who lived near Loch Ness and was determined to discover the truth behind the monster sightings. He pinned copies of every photograph of the monster he could find on the wall of his bedroom. They were the last thing he saw every night and the first thing he saw every morning. One morning he woke to see a photograph of an otter's tail just as the animal went under the water in a barrel-roll. He had seen otters do that many times, and how they bent the tip of their tail  as an unconscious result of the twisting of their back. As he became more fully awake, he realized that what he was actually looking at was a famous photograph of the neck and head of the Loch Ness monster. But monsters are a lot bigger than otters. Thinking about this, and having a very scientific mind, he realized that on open water with nothing by which to judge scale, no one can determine the size of anything unless the shape gives them such information. In short, if you think you are seeing a monster, what you are actually seeing seems rather large. After he came to this realization it was easy to see the "humps" of the Loch Ness monster as the backs of otters porpoising in a line across the water. But there had also been reports, but no photographs, of very young "monsters" on the shore. They had all been seen at dusk and were reported to be about five feet long, give or take. They all did the same thing when spotted: they took a few steps to the water and then slid in. He knew that this is exactly how otters enter the water and he understood that at dusk, the size of anything is difficult to ascertain. The mind can easily believe something to be much bigger if it it thinks it is a monster. Of course, his reports were suppressed because more tourist money comes from monster seekers than otter fanciers, and many people love mysteries more than solutions. Personally, I thought his discovery was far more important than if he had discovered a real monster. It spoke volumes about how our perception can override reality, and that is far more important than any example of cryptozoology. I thought that his discovery was scientifically elegant.

After being stumped for many months in my quest to expand Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Beaulieu's six classes of Corioslite staters, I stopped trying. I decided to just look at their die reconstructions drawn by Major N. V. L. Rybot in the manner of that Scottish naturalist (I wish I could remember his name). I looked at enlargements of them every morning and every night without making any attempt to order them in my mind. One morning I noticed some very small differences in the way that the pony's ears were drawn in a small group of closely related coins. Then I noticed that there were variations in the way that the lash from the chariot driver's head was attached to the pony. That was my "Eureka" moment. The next few hours were frenzied and I roughed out the chronology of the entire series in one sitting. After I had spent some months fine-tuning it, I had expanded the six classes into fifteen groups and understood much of the psychology of all of the die engravers.

The mind of the numismatist is no different than anyone's mind: it sees, or attempts to see, things in accordance with the way it views the world. If the mind expects to see a monster, then it does not see an otter; If the mind expects to see order in predominant designs, then it does not see order in the small details. There is also a very functionalist attitude among numismatists and archaeologists. It is so strong that many of them think that it is a good quality rather than a fault. What it actually does is to unconsciously transfer the world-view of the present and the culture of the observer to past events and objects. This sort of thing happens with most people (Zen-masters and the like exempt). Conscious thought can occlude reality and the collective consciousness does this better than any individual expression. If you can achieve a state of observing without thought you might be very surprised at what you can achieve. The dream-state can also accomplish this because dreams are at the border of the unconscious.

It turned out that the Celtic die engravers exhibited a number of aspects of their philosophy within their work. One of these was what I called "variations on a theme": a way that the same reality could be expressed in different images through the use of a a hidden "key". Another discovery I made was that repetition carried with it a very strong measure of taboo. It was not absolute, but it was considered necessary to a degree for any claims of wisdom to be made. This originality was even faked in one series of Coriosolite coins (Series Z, actually Unelli and not Coriosolite at all. Colbert de Beauliieu had called them Class II Coriosolite). These coins were paid out by Viridovix of the Unelli to very low status troops who would not be expected to understand much. Caesar referred them thusly: "a great host of desperadoes and brigands had gathered, whom the hope of plunder and the passion for war seduced from the daily toil of agriculture.

My chart showing the chronology of the dies of Series Y including Group M
shown in the top diagram. It also includes examples of reused motifs but
"variations on a theme" were, of course, not part of chronological factors
although some enabled me to determine the sub-groups H1 and H2.
(click to enlarge).
The Celtic philosophers understood the collective unconscious as the Underworld, and the Underworld (as expressed by many cultures) is understood in Jungian psychology to be another aspect of that very part of the human mind. It is thus no small wonder that the the collective consciousness with, as Jung put it, "its wretched ism's" fails so badly to detect examples of it. Another example of its aspect of eschewing repetition is found in a series of gold staters of the Corieltauvi in England where the wide variety of combinations of small symbols is often though as ways to differentiate dies by engravers or by metal content of the coins. Such explanations are now invalidated by metallurgical and other sorts of studies of these coins. There was no functional reason for having any of these symbols, they just expressed variety.

To finish, I will say only that the stranger that appeared to Cu Chullain's shieldmaker in yesterday's post came from the underworld. After reading all of the above, you will be able to work out the actual psychology of the story for yourselves. I will be back with more in this series on Monday. Have an inspirational weekend!

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